5 Dec 2013

Unicef faults NZ for outdated adoption law

9:30 pm on 5 December 2013

The United Nations children's agency, Unicef, says New Zealand's adoption law is nearly 60 years out of date and successive governments have failed to act on a series of its recommendations.

In a damning report on the extent to which New Zealand is carrying out its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the agency says children in New Zealand don't have enough say in adoption matters and one in five lives in poverty.

It says adoption here needs to be reformed to bring it in line with the convention, which New Zealand ratified in 1993.

The report recommends the 1955 Adoption Act be amended to allow children younger than 18 to have a greater say in applications for their adoption. At the moment they have none. It also suggests allowing them more access to information about who their biological parents are, by dropping the age when that information becomes available from 20 to 18.

The report's authors also express concern about children's health, maltreatment, the level of engagement in decision-making and inequalities among different groups; they point out that while the convention defines the age of a child as under 18, in New Zealand law it varies from 16 to 18.

Unicef says an all-encompassing action plan is needed, with input from all government agencies. Its next report will be issued in 2016.

Unicef New Zealand manager Deborah Morris-Travers says the agency will work to make children's rights an election issue next year. She says Unicef has launched a petition calling on the Government and all parliamentarians to work together to implement the convention.

An international education expert says many schools in New Zealand are overcoming poverty to provide young people with a good education, despite the Unicef report - which follows an OECD education report showing New Zealand sliding down international rankings in maths, science and reading.

The man who invented the OECD rankings system, Andreas Schleicher, told Morning Report that, overall, schools in this country are performing well. He says there's a lot of resilience in the education system, which shows that while poverty is a challenge it does not need to be a destiny.